- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2008

President Bush signed into law Friday an extension of unemployment benefits that was the only accomplishment of this week’s lame-duck Congress, though Democrats say they will bring lawmakers to Washington again next month to bail out Detroit automakers before President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

The White House blasted Capitol Hill Democrats for leaving for a Thanksgiving break without helping car companies on the brink of bankruptcy.

“It is appalling that Congress decided to leave town without addressing a problem that they, themselves, said needed to be addressed,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Top Democrats blamed Big Three auto executives for failing to sell lawmakers on a proposed $25 billion rescue, saying the three lacked a blueprint to rebuild their companies and they created ill will by flying to Washington on private jets to seek federal handouts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded the three meet several conditions — including barring executives’ bonuses and presenting detailed business plans by Dec. 2 — before Congress debates a rescue plan.

“We don’t have any intention of seeing the auto industry go down, but they have to come up with how they survive themselves,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat.

In a letter to the auto companies released Friday afternoon, Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also called on the automakers to show how the government would be reimbursed and share in future profits, how the companies meet fuel-efficiency standards, and what they will do to address their health care and pension obligations to workers.

Mr. Bush also used his Saturday radio address to criticize the Democrats for killing a proposal to let automakers tap for any needed purposes a $25 billion loan program Congress already had approved to help Detroit develop energy-efficient vehicles, though he used much softer language than Mrs. Perino did.

“Unfortunately, the leadership in Congress adjourned without even allowing this measure to come up for a vote,” Mr. Bush said in his address, which was taped Friday and released early by the White House. “My position is clear: If the automakers are willing to make the hard decisions needed to become viable, they should be able to receive the funds Congress already allotted to them for other purposes.”

The bailout for car companies was not the only lame-duck business put off by the Democrat-led Congress. Plans for a $100 billion economic stimulus with food stamps, aid to states and New Deal-style projects building roads, bridges and schools never made it to the Senate floor.

“I think the week’s events have been a rather bizarre series,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Leading up to the lame-duck session, we were told it was critical that we act now, but there was no bill to debate and no plan for a vote.”

The economic collapse is busting Detroit automakers as tight credit and skittish consumers drag down car sales to record lows, putting at least 1 million autoworker and industry-related jobs in peril.

Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. say they could run out of money within weeks.

The Bush administration is pushing Congress to free up $25 billion in loans to fuel-efficient cars and let automakers use the cash immediately to stay in business. Democratic leaders wanted to lend the car companies another $25 billion out of the $700 billion rescue for the financial industry.

Democrats announced a series of committee hearings the first week of December and scheduled Congress to reconvene Dec. 8 for another lame-duck session on a bailout for GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co.

Mrs. Pelosi also said a stimulus plan would be ready to enact as soon as Mr. Obama takes office Jan. 20.

The extension of unemployment benefits that Mr. Bush signed Friday had been kicked around Capitol Hill for months. It was originally part of a $61 billion economic stimulus that died in the Senate after winning House passage in late September. At that time, the House passed a stand-alone unemployment benefits bill that languished in the Senate and ultimately won final approval Thursday in an 89-6 vote.

The measure gives seven more weeks of unemployment payments to workers who have exhausted their current joblessness benefits. In states with the highest unemployment rates, an additional 20 weeks will be allowed.

Mr. Bush previously opposed extending the benefits, which he said would discourage the unemployed from seeking working. His attitude changed as the number of new claims for jobless benefits last week hit the highest level in 16 years, with more than 4 million people receiving unemployment benefits.

Congressional leaders rushed the bill to the White House for Mr. Bush to sign before he left Friday morning on an early flight to Lima, Peru, to attend the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. The president signed it shortly before 8 a.m. as he prepared for the trip.

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